The end of 2021 is nearly upon us, a unique year which saw many memorable moments for Paralympic sport in Canada, including the return of competition for many athletes and the postponed Tokyo Paralympic Games.
To mark the end of the year, we asked some of Canada’s Paralympic athletes, both past and present, to share their own personal favourite memories and moments of the year.
Here is what they shared:
Alison Levine, Boccia:
My top moment was getting pictures [like the below] sent to me in Tokyo from back home of people being able to watch livestreamed Paralympic boccia for the first time ever!
Zak Madell, Wheelchair Rugby:
The highlight of my 2021 was definitely the Tokyo 2020ne Paralympic Games. There was so much uncertainty in the year and a half leading up to the Games, and we were unsure if they would even happen. Even though the Games felt a bit different compared to previous events I have attended, the opportunity to represent Canada at such an important event never disappoints! I am thankful that we still had this opportunity.
Amy Burk, Goalball:
There have been lots of exciting moments of 2021. Racing home to watch the women’s soccer team win gold at the Olympics really stands out. I was out finishing the final prep for PCR testing for our trip to Tokyo. I recorded the end that I was missing and stayed off my phone, so I wouldn’t find out who won. It was incredible!
The other big moment was finally getting to Tokyo. That was our first competition since the whole pandemic began. It was nice to know the Games was officially going to happen. It had been so long since we played another team. That moment felt amazing. Despite all the Covid restrictions it was like the world was starting to get back to ‘normal’. It is always a huge honour to represent this amazing, beautiful country.
Marissa Papaconstantinou, Para Athletics:
My top moments from 2021 were:
• Getting the opportunity to travel again going to San Diego and Tokyo
• Making my second Paralympic team!
• Winning the bronze medal in the women’s 100m T64
• Getting to throw the first pitch at the Blue Jays game when I came home from Tokyo
• Attending live sports in Toronto again!
Priscilla Gagné, Para Judo:
My top moments are:
• Walking with the Canadian flag in the Opening Ceremony
• Andrzej [Sadej], my coach, placing the medal around my neck in Tokyo
• Entering the Paralympic Village, the most beautiful place on Earth
• Watching my fellow Canadian athletes continuing to battle through training and somehow keeping a positive attitude
• Seeing the Japanese working endlessly to create a safe, warm, and inviting place to compete in the midst of a pandemic
• Sitting in the cockpit while waiting to deplane in Tokyo
• Without question I loved seeing my Olympic counterparts make history for Canadian judo, Jessica [Klimkait] and Cat BP [Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard] both taking home bronze medals for the first time in Canadian women’s history
Austin Smeenk, Para Athletics:
There was a ton! I like to live with the belief the glass is always overflowing, it is never empty nor full, it is a matter of perspective and the air around the glass is still a fluid to be considered.
• Watching the women’s Olympic soccer team win the gold medal from home as I packed my bags for Japan must be noted as one of the greatest highs. Talk about an incredible feeling of pride and excitement.
• Of course representing Canada at the Paralympics is an incredible feat but the feeling of being a role model to the youth in Para sport surpassed the feeling of getting on the plane.
• WATCHING MY TEAMMATES WIN MEDALS and cheering them on from the Paralympic Village or stadium. Getting to experience their wins or losses in such a personal way and picking them up with excitement when they returned to our building was amazing.
• My roommates Greg Stewart and Brent Lakatos won multiple medals which were all celebrated with enthusiasm. Not to mention one of the OG best friends on the team, Marissa Paps, winning her first medal after having a great year.
• Competing at various competitions in order to get myself ready for the Games is also very high on the list. Notably in Quebec City where I ran a personal best to rank myself second overall in the world for the 2021 season.
• Tears of joy and belief in the process of improvement!
• Returning home and visiting with family and friends while still riding the high from what had just taken place was also a ton of fun. My folks had watch parties with many of my friends and parents of friends. It felt like there was a community formed around my goal to be the best version of myself I could be, and nothing else.
• Comments like you're so inspirational felt great for sure especially when surrounded by such incredible individuals to begin with. It is a pleasure to represent this country but more importantly to be a global citizen of high spirit and positivity. I love how sport can bring us together and create a dream come true for those who compete and offer inspiration and positive entertainment to those who watch.
Mark Arendz, Para Nordic Skiing:
My top moment of 2021 is the potential that comes after this year's work. Winter athletes are forged in the summer's heat, and 2021 was no different. We may all have had to adapt to a rapidly changing world, but that's what Paralympians do best. The year 2021 is for final training and well underway preparations, if not wrapping up, as Team Canada will soon head to Beijing for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. The journey to achievement usually has a greater lasting impact; 2021 is a pivotal part of the journey to Beijing. The Beijing Games are the achievement, and though the past few years have led to a much different journey, the Games are nearing all the same. The Games may be in 2022, but it is 2021 where the athletes put in the work, the focus that will result in success in March! For me, 2021 is about putting in the work and focus so that I may realize my potential next year, in 2022.
Sally Thomas, Para Powerlifting Alumni (2004, 2008 Paralympian):
I'd like to shout out our Paralympic swim team! We did awesome, again!